Today we’ll be deep diving into the history subreddit /r/ArtefactPorn. No, not that kind of porn! Simply put, these are the top ten images (measuring by having the most upvotes, as of April 2019) ever posted to ArtefactPorn, an area of Reddit strictly dedicated to showcasing archeological and historical finds. Everything from burial sites to gold rings will be investigated, so let’s go!
Content warning: Some images and links contain depictions of ancient human and animal remains, including bones and burial sites. Please do not proceed if you don’t want to view this type of content.
#1 — ‘An amateur treasure hunter with a metal detector turned up a Medieval, gold ring that was set with a sapphire stone in Sherwood Forest — haunt of the legendary (or real) Robin Hood. Experts have examined the ring and believe it may date to the 14 th century.’
When this beautiful, perfectly intact ring was discovered in Nottinghamshire, England in 2016, it triggered a vast slew of very excitable news articles. Perhaps Sherwood Forest’s links to the notorious figure of Robin Hood was what set people’s imaginations flying? What if the ring was once owned (or indeed stolen) by Robin Hood himself?
The ring appears to be made of gold with a sapphire stone inlaid. On both sides of the piece, there is very delicate engraving — one side appears to depict an infant Jesus Christ, and the other a saint. Jewellery experts evaluated the ring as being worth between £20,000 and £70,000, so with any luck the ring’s finder, metal detectorist Mark Thompson, will be significantly rewarded for the important find.
When investigating the ring, I was surprised at the lack of follow-up information available. I spent quite some time searching the British Finds.org database— an online repository of archaeological discoveries in Britain — for gold rings discovered in Nottinghamshire in recent years, and turned up no further information. Articles written at the time indicate that the ring was being analysed by museum experts, and no confirmation of its exact age and origin was available yet. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for any further information and will update you if anything emerges — though if you uncover the fate of the ring, please do let me know!
#2 — ‘Corinthian helmet from the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) found with the warrior’s skull inside.’
Discovered on the ancient battlefield site of the Plain of Marathon, this Corinthian helmet was excavated by the 2nd Baron Nugent of Carlanstown in 1834.
The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, and was a victory for the Greek forces, which makes this skull and helmet find at Marathon unusual. Typically the victors of a battle would not leave their dead comrades’ remains on the battlefield, so it’s surprising to see a Greek helmet left behind for archeologists to discover. Since its sale at auction in 1926, these artifacts have been housed at Canada’s Royal Ontario Museum, and are both available for public viewing in the museum’s Greek and Roman exhibit.
#3 — ‘This Viking sword was found by reindeer hunters at high altitude in the Mountains of Oppland County. It may have belonged to a Viking who lost his way and died here 1100 years ago.’
The original poster cites this page from the Secrets of the Ice, a Norwegian archeology group with a focus on icefields and glaciers, as the source of the image.
Discovered in Oppland County, Norway by reindeer hunters, the Viking sword appears to date from between 850–950 AD. It was located on the surface of a large rocky area, still partially exposed. The sword is amazingly well preserved, the team credits the quality of the iron, the high altitude (approximately 1640 meters above sea level), and the cold conditions for the excellent condition of the weapon.
Some are skeptical about the Viking origins of the sword, suggesting that the presence of active rust indicates the sword is not as old as Secrets of the Ice state. However, as this NY Post article mentions, the sword has likely been covered by ice and sword for much of its history, potentially helping further with preservation.
The find was isolated, and despite searching the area no additional artifacts nor any human remains were discovered nearby. This means that we don’t know much about how or why the sword was abandoned at its mountainous resting ground, but regardless, even without much provenance known, this is a stunning item!
#4 — ‘14000 years old bisons sculptures found in Le Tuc d’Audoubert cave. Ariege, France’
This hand-sculpted clay artwork is estimated to have been created between 13,500 BCE and 11,500 BCE. Although the Tuc d’Audoubert Cave that the carving sits within has been known since the 17th century, the carving itself wasn’t discovered until 1912 as it was located on an upper level quite far into the cave. Experts state that the carving’s position suggests its role in ritualistic practices, and its aesthetic style as well as its methods of production — a mixture of hand carving and tooled pattern-making — is very similar to other pieces found throughout France from 13,000–10,000 BCE. In fact, the finger markings made by the artist are still visible along the bison’s flanks today.
For a beautiful, almost spiritual description of one sculptor’s visit with the bison, I highly recommend that you read this article.
#5 — ‘A Roman bathhouse still in use after 2,000 years in Khenchela, Algeria’
This is indeed a Roman baths as mentioned in the caption, and indeed has been in use for over 2000 years!
A BBC journalist went to visit the baths in Khenchela, and was surprised to see them so busy and full of life. Situated in modern Algeria, these baths are known in Arabic as Hammam Essalihine, ‘The Bath of the Righteous’. The baths date specifically from the Flavian dynasty, which ran from 69 BC to 96 BC.
The waters feeding the two pools — one for men, one for women — is naturally heated and passed through the ancient stone structures, and are commonly believed to give therapeutic benefits to bathers.
There are other beautiful examples of Roman baths scattered across the world, including in the aptly-named city of Bath, England. Unlike at Khenchela, there‘s no swimming allowed in Bath’s baths, somewhat ironically.
#6 — ‘‘World’s oldest cosmetic face cream — found in London, 2,000-year-old cream from Roman times with ancient finger marks in the lid.’
When this container was unearthed in London in 2003, it was the very first specimen of a Roman cosmetic product found with its lid attached and some of the substance remaining inside! The cream is made of animal fat, starch, and tin. The container itself is made of tin — a precious metal at the time — and is very precisely engineered, indicating that the owner was “from the bourgeoisie of the Roman world”.
Despite a heavy amount of skepticism in the Reddit thread about the legitimacy of the artifact, its authenticity has been verified, and is discussed at length in this Nature article from 2004.
We know the cream in the container is a cosmetic (rather than purely medicinal), as it contains tin to give the skin a whiter appearance. This pale or even white facial aesthetic was a popular Roman trend, thought to signal the wearer belonging to the leisure class, given their lessened exposure to the sun. Although traditionally the whitening ingredient in Roman cosmetics was lead, here, tin was used in the cream instead. It’s not known for sure whether this was a deliberate choice to avoid the now well-documented health effects of lead cosmetics, or simply down to the creator using more readily available local ingredients given England’s plentiful Cornish tin mines. In fact, Cornwall’s tin mines were active from Roman times, right up until the 1980s!
#7 — ‘Egyptian archaeologists have discovered a statue of a sphinx while draining water from the pharaonic temple of Kom Ombo near the southern city of Aswan.’
Although quite tricky to judge the scale of the find in this Reddit image, the source article indicates it is quite petite, measuring in at about 28 centimeters wide and 38 centimeters tall. The statue is made of sandstone, and dates from the Ptolemaic dynasty which ran from 305 BC to 30 BC, which coincides with the creation of the fabulous Rosetta Stone.
Sphinx artefacts are of course an incredibly famous symbol of ancient Egypt, but similar mythical creatures are depicted in ancient art worldwide, including in Greece, Sri Lanka, and India. The symbology of sphinxes is even older than you might expect, too. The oldest sphinx archeologists are aware of was discovered in Turkey, and dates back to 9,500 BC!
This new, mini-sphinx statue was discovered in 2018 within the temple of Kom Ombo while the chamber was being drained of groundwater. Its location within a temple implies a spiritual purpose, of course, and sphinxes are commonly found at religious sites, including watching over temples and adorning tombs. After the discovery of the Kom Ombo sphinx, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities started the preservation and restoration process.
#8 — ‘A Corinthian helmet was discovered in a 5th century BC grave in the Taman Peninsula, southwest Russia’
This find is of course quite similar to number one on this list — another Corinthian helmet from ancient Greece. Corinthian helmets in themselves are not especially rare (just look at this image!), but this find is particularly special as it is the only Corinthian helmet found north of the Black Sea.
This helmet was found in a grave along with human remains, which is in keeping with the tradition of Greek soldiers being buried with their helmets, weapons, and armour. It’s estimated by experts that the find dates from the first quarter of the fifth century BC, which falls within the time of the Bosporan Kingdom, a Greco-Scythian state established in the late 400s BC. Funnily enough, the Bosporan Kingdom centered around the Kerch Strait, a region that recently featured in one of our own blog posts for totally unrelated reasons…
Interestingly, it’s not just today that we find these helmets especially attractive and intriguing. The ancient Greeks themselves used this classic helmet shape in their artwork for a long time after the design had fallen out of common use. This trend continued even further, well into the time of the Roman Empire. Even Greek deities and mythological figures were frequently depicted wearing versions of the Corinthian helmet.
#9 — ‘2000 years old Thracian chariot with horse skeletons. Found in Bulgaria, Karanovo’
This has got to be one of my favourite finds in this list! The level of preservation here is astonishing, so we can see the full details of this chariot burial. A detailed explanation of the find can be found in this article, written to explain this very Reddit post.
The chariot itself is bronze-plated with intricate designs, and it has four wheels, each around 1.2 meters in diameter. The burial site also contained the chariot’s armour-clad human owner, various expensive pieces of jewellery and household goods, two horses with harnesses, and a dog. This burial practice of noblemen with chariots is apparently a specifically Thracian one. The exact age of the chariot is unknown, but it’s estimated between 2,000 and 1,800 years old.
Although one might not immediately think of modern-day Bulgaria when you picture a horse-driven chariot like this one, this geographic region once made up part of Thrace itself, along with northeastern Greece, and the European portion of Turkey. Although this tomb is a fantastic discovery, it’s by no means the only Thracian burial site in Bulgaria today — there are estimated to be at least 10,000 of them!
If you’re interested in ancient chariot-based archeological finds, I’d highly recommend this article describing an Iron Age chariot burial site in Yorkshire, England that also involves equine additions. Interestingly, this British chariot is missing its second wheel (it only ever had two wheels, unlike the Thracian four) — it’s thought that it was destroyed by medieval ploughing activity!
#10 — ‘One of the fake heads fashioned from soap, toothpaste, concrete dust, and toilet paper, used as a decoy during the 1962 escape of 3 prisoners from Alcatraz’
This is by far the ‘youngest’ item highlighted in this blog post, and it’s the only artifact here that remains part of an active police investigation! The item depicted is indeed a handmade sculpture of a human head used as a decoy in the infamous Alcatraz prison escape of June 1962. as the title suggests. There were in fact multiple decoy heads created — one for each of the three prisoners involved in the escape, Frank Morris, and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, plus one for inmate Clayton West, whose escape attempt was unsuccessful.
Although the Alcatraz complex was designed to make escape as difficult as humanly possible, these prisoners took many months to plan and execute their escape, and were largely successful! The escapees did indeed leave the prison, and have not been recaptured. Opinion is split on whether the prisoners survived the cold plunge into the San Francisco Bay and the swim to shore, though because their bodies have not been found, the case remains officially open and active.
The head itself is made of stolen and salvaged materials found within the prison, including stolen paint, toothpaste, bed linen, soap, and human hair from the prison barber shop. In 2018 the FBI used 3D printing and other techniques to create replicas of the original heads, which themselves remain official police property due to the active investigation. The replica heads will form part of a public Alcatraz exhibit to help the public better understand this interesting piece of American history. U.S. marshal Don O’Keefe is quick to point out that the marshals still take this crime seriously, stating, “our efforts are meant not just to perform due diligence, but to be a warning to other fugitives, that U.S. Marshals don’t give up because of the passing of time”.
Even at the time of the escape, Alcatraz prison was itself decaying and crumbling, just like the fragile sculpture in this photo. The prison’s last inmates left in 1963, when the prison was closed for financial reasons, including the need for extensive, expensive infrastructure repairs. Today, the ex-prison island houses a public museum, offering a fascinating insight into a truly unusual prison environment and an iconic piece of American history.
Surprise, it’s a bonus, eleventh artifact! This was one of the top posts on /r/ArtefactPorn in the last month. I thought it was fascinating so I couldn’t refrain from including it, so I hope you’ll indulge me!
#11 — ‘Hut made of mammoth bones, Cro-Magnon, Mezhirich, Ukraine, 15000 B.C.’
I can’t express enough of my excitement on learning about this truly astonishing archeological find. In a small Ukrainian village, in 1965 a man excavating his cellar found a single mammoth jawbone. This triggered further, professional archeological excavations, eventually leading to the stunning sight depicted in this image — a small hut constructed entirely of mammoth bones.
This hut was among several discovered all dating back to around 15,000 years ago, so this is a tiny settlement attributed to Cro-Magnon. Cro-Magnon, also known generally as ‘European early modern humans’, are early anatomically modern humans. Shockingly, in England and Italy evidence of Cro-Magnons dates back even further — to before 40,000 years ago!
Alongside the huts themselves, various evidence of musical and artistic activity was found, including the remains of a mammoth-skin drum, and painted mammoth skulls apparently used as decorations for the tiny settlement.
An excellent, highly detailed write-up of the prehistoric Mezhyrich settlement (with lots of additional photos and diagrams!) can be found at Don’s Maps.
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1. An amateur treasure hunter with a metal detector turned up a Medieval, gold ring that was set with a sapphire stone in Sherwood Forest — haunt of the legendary (or real) Robin Hood. Experts have examined the ring and believe it may date to the 14 th century. [1270x700]
Permaweb archive of Reddit discussion: https://arweave.net/5yOx2wBoKw-3IWT8zndnNhpUcWeO5xPt7ripluyAM5s
Permaweb image link: https://arweave.net/4D-u2xxW1yFeYQKp1PZSx4VHmyk8owYmWFzlnNQv9ko
2. Corinthian helmet from the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) found with the warrior’s skull inside. [900x1275]
Permaweb archive of Reddit discussion: https://arweave.net/UTBIX1ozJoKVsMFPhe4QAiKconmjDYlvXbou59UUA-A
Permaweb image link: https://arweave.net/qVm_wd-2KhuxLE0cZ8MB0BNMXTLy-nB2BguIydV_6-Q
3. This Viking sword was found by reindeer hunters at high altitude in the Mountains of Oppland County. It may have belonged to a Viking who lost his way and died here 1100 years ago. [768x1024]
Permaweb archive of Reddit discussion: https://arweave.net/RIdfYWdJz1mj1I6_naOB-QfHDzaLLVe6h3oeP-WeegE
Permaweb image link: https://arweave.net/bMVBtYYfGRAaWXnJwD_nPkFFxpY5Y_WsAdzGwDN8PpQ
4. 14000 years old bisons sculptures found in Le Tuc d’Audoubert cave. Ariege, France [1850x1250]
Permaweb archive of Reddit discussion: https://arweave.net/8DtA9nNHK2ydl3Pn8VTvq1lMGFDFTNrkKlgFvL3z1iI
Permaweb image link: https://arweave.net/MjZimz-McPUBhvB4yDMYaCWbeXnqoFLLfeKAJ9YVLN0
5. A Roman bathhouse still in use after 2,000 years in Khenchela, Algeria [736x736]
Permaweb archive of Reddit discussion: https://arweave.net/9ikjHCVw3YsK5n4gz4N73kzfEcfbiUgeHK4pBD6VQdg
Permaweb image link: https://arweave.net/ZijsYxgO3b2OB0p653DKGd_qLjL-2gx5lWVvY4lxb3k
6. World’s oldest cosmetic face cream — found in London, 2,000-year-old cream from Roman times with ancient finger marks in the lid. [700x500]
Permaweb archive of Reddit discussion: https://arweave.net/iclPwK-WbccStSUjwEykTc75xh-qVA54CT2k4q5aG0Q
Permaweb image link: https://arweave.net/KqAP1Ds1uxZQ-VhfhCvVMwjPa4JZpE5Ph9XJVvsngIM
7. Egyptian archaeologists have discovered a statue of a sphinx while draining water from the pharaonic temple of Kom Ombo near the southern city of Aswan. [726x1130]
Permaweb archive of Reddit discussion: https://arweave.net/kDvG-sLLmhf9khKEODtlH7O0_Xnq9pfq-ShKowaRJSE
Permaweb image link: https://arweave.net/7jIO-SmzjWWFrszrnAGhs6LAcq-mmgSqa-g1R1dSfHU
8. A Corinthian helmet was discovered in a 5th century BC grave in the Taman Peninsula, southwest Russia [1600x1000]
Permaweb archive of Reddit discussion: https://arweave.net/F1c7lxv3DI4q7jh40XnGcmWvnV7lyuZpFGK2qlsKpus
Permaweb image link: https://arweave.net/j7B4dPJWbYeMkAvQNzU2C0wlrqsAcpL5UAks0oqMrvE
9. 2000 years old Thracian chariot with horse skeletons. Found in Bulgaria, Karanovo [6000x4000]
Permaweb archive of Reddit discussion: https://arweave.net/y4KyTA3qI0rMga_fORv-qJAAJboha8Ex7ogWKBu01Ng
Permaweb image link: https://arweave.net/qR9Pf-LkYZ1ohhYzlLLFucZmdWabTwg2SMWzwKCouZQ
10. One of the fake heads fashioned from soap, toothpaste, concrete dust, and toilet paper, used as a decoy during the 1962 escape of 3 prisoners from Alcatraz [924 x 922]
Permaweb archive of Reddit discussion: https://arweave.net/0P4fWVTeld9EIHfuuKCS4xVG5Ouqg7vKGxcXguvr2nw
Permaweb image link: https://arweave.net/cjF4J648XvYO7mI6Car-XJwEHq0PnWh8JfSJe2pIaQk
11. Hut made of mammoth bones, Cro-Magnon, Mezhirich, Ukraine, 15000 B.C. [900 x 659]
Permaweb archive of Reddit discussion: https://arweave.net/quiqRnzOD8caa5PdSZ3_puLnd90wMotT4kbpYfUuzko
Permaweb image: https://arweave.net/kWpc29MIVbAU9jtNVtm4nFKS2jrCwx791_xW4q7bWk4